Erin's Reviews > The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe

The Discovery of Jeanne Baret by Glynis Ridley
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's review
Dec 06, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: first-read-giveaway, non-fiction, biography
Read in February, 2012

I won this in the First Reads giveaway. I requested the book because I am usually interested in historical women that accomplished things outside of what was expected or valued for women. Jeanne Baret was born a French peasant and was taught to be an herb woman. Through providing herbs for doctors and such like, she met the famed botanist Philibert Commerson. She became his lover and bore him a son. He decided in 1765 to travel the world and investigate the flora of different places and she decided to go with him. She disguised herself as a man and traveled on the ship.

Ok, based on my above description, this sounds like a fascinating read. However, I actually found the book to be rather dry and not based on too much fact. It read like a history book that has been assigned in a history class. I noticed that the author won an award for a previous book that focused on a historical element as well. She writes about this time in history with more of a clincial detachment with no real narrative.

The other major problem I have is that I am not sure that this is non-fiction. She bases her whole argument on some vague paragraphs in a couple of people's journals. Jeanne, herself, didn't leave any writing behind. Commerson didn't really write anything about his mistress. Some of the other people on the ship make a few notations about her and her multiple rapes by the crew, but that is it. There isn't much in history or primary source documents about her. So, I have to assume that Ridley made a lot of the stuff up. I am ok with her making stuff up as long as it is interesting stuff, which is really wasn't.

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